Silent Hill: Shattered Memories & Lost Potential

I had been looking forward to playing through Silent Hill: Shattered Memories for some time. I’m something as odd as a horror game enthusiast who hasn’t played any of the games in the Silent Hill series, as I unfortunately sold my PlayStation to “upgrade” to a Nintendo 64 before the first game had been released, and I never bought a PlayStation 2. I’ve heard enough about the games to have a rough idea of what they’re about, though: survival horror with clunky combat, psychological and sometimes sexual themes that go deeper than the typical horror fare, set to a location called Silent Hill. It sounds like a decent game series, and the first three games in seem to have a bit of a cult following.

So when a game in the series would finally be released for a console I owned – which in this case was the Nintendo Wii – I was pretty happy. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is supposed to be a re-imagining of the first Silent Hill game, taking greater liberties with the story and gameplay than a remake would. It was advertised as a psychological experience, a game that played you as much as you played it, and as a game where you truly felt helpless as you had no ways to defeat the monsters you encountered and instead had to run away or hide from them.

Having now played it, my feelings about Silent Hill: Shattered Memories are very mixed.

It starts off great, with tons of atmosphere (you can never have enough atmosphere) and an interesting story. It uses the Wii controller’s speaker for all it’s worth, having it serve as a faux mobile phone relaying messages to you, pointing you towards clues, and generally playing creepy white noise. But by the end I felt like I was walking through boring, desolate corridors and cityscapes, picking up clues which had nothing to do with anything at all (unless you analyze the heck out of them), and forcing myself through tedious and lengthy chase sequences.

One of the big selling points of the game is that the game can change each time you play it, as it makes a psychological profile of you based on both your decisions when you play (like which route you take and how long you stare at certain items) and asks you to complete occasional psychological tests. However, most of the changes that can occur seem rather minuscule, and don’t affect the overall experience all that much. You’re still largely exploring the same areas, getting the same clues, and having the same conversations – with occasional alterations. These changes definitely didn’t feel substantial enough to warrant playing through the game more than once, though it does offer a few different ending cinematics (which you can easily find on YouTube).

As mentioned, the clues you stumble over never really seem to be relevant to the story. For example, a couple of early clues you can find involve two brothers playing at a pumping station, where one of them ends up getting trapped and drowning. It’s both creepy and tragic. But you never actually hear about either of the brothers again, and it doesn’t seem to relate to anything else you find. It’s just a random, creepy, tragic event that happened in this city. And most (if not all) the clues seem to be like that. They’re often interesting and emotive, but in the end they don’t seem to really fit together, not forming any coherent narrative. They just seem to be random events involving random people, unless you try analyzing them all to death.

The chase sequences were atrocious. While a bit spooky to begin with, they quickly outstay their  welcome and become frustrating. You have to make your way from point A to point B while being chased by monsters. But you have no idea where to run, and your surroundings look largely the same, so you’ll often end up running in circles having no idea where you’re supposed to go. If any of the monsters catch you, they’ll cling to you and you’ll have to waggle your Wii controller like a crazy person to get loose. If you die, you’ll have to start over again. You can occasionally stumble over hiding places (like closets), but they’re hard to find and not very helpful; the monsters chasing you will remain right outside wherever you’re hiding, making it so you can’t come out without getting caught, and they’ll eventually find you on their own and drag you out of there.

To make my way through these chase sequences I started using YouTube, frequently pausing the game to watch a video showing me where I needed to go. It was frustrating, but less frustrating and time-consuming than running around not knowing where to go. If my choice is between having a shotgun or having to go through chase sequences like these, I’ll choose the shotgun.

Oh, and I actually had a fun and frightening bug one time when I was playing the game. The Wii controller will now and then play distorted sounds and static to try to set a creepy atmosphere. But one time, the controller wouldn’t stop playing the static sound, and it played it loudly. I actually called the friend I had borrowed the game from to ask if this was normal, holding the controller up to the phone so he could hear. Apparently it wasn’t, and when I restarted the game the static was at the normal volume level, and appeared and disappeared when it was supposed to rather than staying constant.

I really adore the basic idea of this game. A horror game without combat? Using the Wii controller well? Focusing on atmosphere and story?  Sign me up! It’s just too bad the execution left a lot to be desired.

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